Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Five Hundred Words a Day

by Pat Stoltey

In Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, David Morrell tells the story of how he became drawn to fiction writing, his determination, his trials and errors, and his successes. The part of the story I like best is about a novel Morrell began when he was only twenty-five years old. He still lacked confidence in his abilities, so even after completing several drafts of a tale about a Vietnam veteran, Morrell gave up on the novel with little hope he'd ever make it as a fiction writer. He shoved the manuscript into a drawer "and began a much more sensible project: my dissertation on the contemporary American writer John Barth."

When the dissertation was finished, Morrell had free time before moving to the University of Iowa to begin his teaching job. He found that abandoned manuscript, decided it wasn't nearly as bad as he'd thought, finished it, and sent it to an agent. Months later, the manuscript sold. That was First Blood, the first book in the Rambo series.

Morrell, after years of experience and many published books, advises writers not to chase trends or try to second guess the market. He goes on to say, "The only reason to write a story is that it grabs you and won't let you go until you put it on paper."

Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook quote agent Peter Rubie in Give 'Em What They Want, "I think the best a writer can ever do is do what he wants to do, as best as he can do it. Be true to yourself and everything else will follow."

And Julia Cameron, in her book Walking in This World: the Practical Art of Creativity, tells this story:

"Today my mail contained a manila envelope from a friend, a born storyteller who spent years wanting to write and not writing. Last June, on a perfectly ordinary day, Larry did an extraordinary thing for him: He picked up a pen and started writing. I now have a fat sheaf of stories in my hand. All he needed to do was begin. And then begin again the next day."
The concept isn't hard to grasp. All of the ones who do it keep telling those who don't: Write. Just sit down and write. If you lack confidence, as did David Morrell when he was young, write anyway. If the market seems to favor biological disaster thrillers, and you want to write a gentle love story that begins in the shelter of a covered bridge, write your love story anyway.

Pick up a pen--or sit down at your computer--and start writing. Do it again tomorrow. Five hundred words a day is 182,500 words in a year.


This post is adapted from my July 31, 2009 post at Patricia Stoltey blog.


Nathan Lowell said...

This is so true.

Writers write. After over a year of dithering about while working on publishing and audio and works-for-hire and all the rest, last week I sat down with my calendar and blocked out the time to write.

Every day. Three hours. Nine to Noon.

Already 10,000 words to the good, my next novel is shaping up nicely.

Thanks, Pat. A timely reminder.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Nathan, blocking out the time on a calendar worked so well for me during NaNoWriMo that I've realized it's the only way for me to be productive. Thanks for your comment.

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - I love that way of looking at it! That's what got me through doing my dissertation. Folks, it works.

Susan Spann said...

Fantastic post, Pat. This is exactly what I try to practice - and what I tell my writer friends when they get discouraged. Ignore the market. Write an amazing, bang-up story - and the market will follow!